In a Sport's Illustrated Op-Ed, NBA Center Jason Collins recently came out as gay. "I'm black and I'm gay," he said. This big news sent the sports world into a storm of comments both positive and in support of Collins, and exasperated as to why he felt the need to say anything at all. He leaves many mainstream parents wondering if this is a good thing or a bad thing for a sports figure to do.

Sports, undeniably, play far too much of an important role in American culture. Everyone has the teams they root for and we constantly are looking up to — and letting our children look up to — sports figures to model behavior for our children. Most of this probably stems from the athletic rigor of "practice, practice, practice and you will achieve." For poor kids, sports figures from economically depressed backgrounds have always been a source of aspiration. Play ball, and if you practice hard enough, and are really good, you too will become a professional athlete and be out of poverty forever.

We want our role model athletes to not take drugs, not cheat on their wives, and to do well in school. Most are human, so most fall short of our unrealistic expectations.

Jason Collins, on the other hand, offers a better role model. A role model who comes out and says "be who you are." It's no secret that America's LGBTQ youth are some of the most bullied and mentally abused kids by both family members and their school peers. Collins speaking up about his orientation provides strength and hope — and not just for LGBTQ youth! When children see someone comfortable in their own skin and being honest and true to themselves and who they are, it provides a perfect teachable moment. If Collins can come out as gay, then maybe Sally can come out as a math geek and Jeff can come out as loving to quilt. His admission on a grand scale makes the pathway that much easier for others to be who they are.

And It's Not About Sex

A common misconception by those parents who freak out at celebrities and sports figures coming out is this idea that somehow the person who comes out is "bringing what goes on in the bedroom into the public." That's not what sexual orientation is about. It's. Not. About. Sex.

Worried parents often make this assumption that it is, and that's where the freak out begins and the homophobic comments start flying. Sexual orientation is exactly what it is — orientation.

Imagine you're in the workplace, any workplace. Maybe you're a basketball player for the NBA. Maybe you're an office worker. It's a Friday afternoon and your co-worler says "Hey John, what are you going to do this weekend?" John is going to his partner of 20 years Mark's niece's 5th birthday party. He should be able to say, "My husband and I are going to his niece's birthday." But he won't. He'll just say, "Oh, I'm going to a family party."

Or maybe the women in the office are talking about how hard it is to deal with an aging husband, and your name is Julie and you have a wife who you take care of on your days off and you hire a caretaker for the days you are working. The five women surrounding Julie can talk about their husbands all they want in this scenario. But unless Julie is in a workplace that's open and caring, she can't enter that conversation. She'll pretend she single. Or smile. She cannot say, "I know what you mean" and talk about her home life. That's what being in the closet is.

Most heterosexual parent families probably (hopefully?) do not talk about their sex lives with their children. The same is true for homosexual families. No kid gay or straight wants to hear about their parents having sex, gay or straight, because most of us don't want to think that our parents ever had sex.

Which brings us back to Jason Collins and the media circus surrounding his coming out. Jason and open-minded people everywhere know that his admission wasn't about sex. It was about orientation. Jason no longer has to hide. He no longer has to pretend. Jason will no longer have to make excuses as to why he doesn't want to be set up on a blind date with a hot woman. He won't have to sit out a Pride parade that his straight friend went to instead.

"No one wants to live in fear. I've always been scared of saying the wrong thing. I don't sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly. It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I've endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie," says Collins.

We want our kids to be truthful and honest. Jason's honesty gives us the perfect example of how lying about yourself can take a toll on you emotionally, physically, and mentally. Telling the truth was a brave thing for him to do and it should serve as an inspiration for all youth — LGBTQ and straight — to do the same in their lives.